Music-Box Angel 4... C&C is welcomed with open arms! If you read, please send me a comment or two -- I just gotta know what y'all think! ^_^

NOTE: This text was produced without the consent of the original copyright holders, and, while it is intended as tribute, in some areas it is considered an illegal work.

OUR STORY SO FAR: Holy moley -- so much has happened. To too-quickly summarize, Marie has been placed in a perpetual sleep mode, and is currently dreaming. Mari and Tanaka are at Hiroshi's, waiting in the living room for Hiroshi to emerge from his workshop. It is currently late Saturday night...

B O K U   N O   M A R I E

Music-Box Angel

Episode Four: The Longest Night

The anime (c) 1996 Sakura Takeuchi/Goro Sanyo/Shueisha/ Victor Entertainment/Studio Pierrot.
Licensed by Victor Entertainment, Inc., Japan.
Released in North America by A.D.V. Films
under the title "My Dear Marie."
For more information, contact A.D.V. Films at:

Boku No Marie: Music-Box Angel (c) 1998 Matthew Johnston..
All Rights Reserved.

      Marie sat patiently in her high-backed wooden chair, and had been doing so for very nearly an hour. The white walls lacked any feature save that they seemed to pulsate slightly in synch with her breathing, even when she slowed and sped her breathing out of curiosity. She didn't feel the same distance as earlier, though she still did not feel entirely in control.
      At least I can move myself, she sighed. Marie wiggled her toes in her penny loafers. She was in rather formal Western dress, but the interview she was waiting for was not so formal as to warrant a kimono. Her clothes lacked color, save her shoes and her powder blue angora beret; she also wore a gray skirt and a white blouse. On the whole, it was quite drab, though she hoped that the accents of color would help keep her in the running.
      A movement in her peripheral vision alerted her to a change in her environment. She looked to her left, and saw a wooden desk with an empty leather office chair just beyond. On the desk sat a micro-cassette recorder -- the same as the one Hiroshi used to record class lectures. Marie could hear the speaker pop as the tape began playing.
      The tape played for an hour, during which Marie sat still, breathing slowly and smoothly like a sleeping child. The only sound she could hear was the hiss of the apparently blank tape. The click of the auto-reverse startled her; after five seconds more of the hiss, a voice split the silence.
      "Name?" The voice was Hiroshi's.
      "Marie." Marie thought for a moment before continuing with the marriage interview. "Marie Karigari."
      "I'll be the judge of that. Age?"
      "Nineteen. Well, actually, I'm only about a year old, but I guess I'm supposed to be..."
      "A simple yes or no will do." The voice that interrupted Marie wasn't Hiroshi's. Rather, it was Mari's.
      "What?" Marie shrank back slightly, confusion filling her voice.
      "Are you a robot?"
      "...No." Marie smiled at her half-truth.
      "Don't lie to me. I know everything about you."
      "Then why are you..."
      Marie's protest was cut off by Tanaka's voice. "...This is as much for your benefit as it is for mine."
      Marie paused. "Oh. I'm an android, though."
      "Did I ask if you were an android?"
      "No." Marie replied sharply.
      "Then don't tell me you're an android. Now, are you a robot?"
      Marie refused to lose ground in the interview. "No."
      "That's better."
      "What?" Marie blinked.
      "Blood type?"
      "I... I don't know."
      "A simple yes or no will do." The voice was Mari's again.
      "But that's not a yes or..."
      "...Yes or no, Marie."
      "No!" Marie yelled her answer; her throat painfully closed as she choked on welled tears finally flowing. The walls pulsed with her racing heart, and it seemed a pinkish glow, perhaps an unfulfilled red, emanated from the height of each pulse.
      "I thought as much." When Hiroshi's voice finally spoke, it seemed colder than she had ever heard. Even at his most angry or logical, Hiroshi always had a small spot of compassion in his voice. This voice was his, but it lacked all compassion.
      "Hiroshi?" Marie sobbed so slowly, each shudder felt like it would be the last, but was really only one in a series of final sniffles and shakes. The walls slowed in their pulsing, though they brightened and darkened somewhat faster than when she had entered the room.
      "...Yes?" Marie answered after she regained a little composure.
      "I'd prefer a more verbose answer, please."
      "Umm, I'm..." Marie wiped her eyes and continued, her determination more intense than before. "I'm loyal, and I care about you deeply. I'm kind..."
      "What about Hibiki Kennou?"
      Marie furrowed her brow. "Well... I suppose she's kind too, in her own way..."
      "No. What about your fight with Hibiki Kennou?"
      "What about it?" Marie scoffed. She had long since given up on anticipating the direction of the interview, and was wondering if the tape was going to end soon; she longed for a little silence.
      "Can you say you're kind after fighting?"
      "Well, I..." Marie was again interrupted.
      "...Well nothing!" Hiroshi 's voice filled the now deep red room. "YOU DID NOT ADHERE TO THE THREE LAWS OF ROBOTICS!"
      "But I'm not a..." Marie could barely hear her voice above the thunderous hiss of the tape player. Again, the walls throbbed faster.
      "...One! A robot is to be demure, and never show her intense feelings for a boy!"
      "Stop yelling!" Marie wished she was somewhere else.
      "Two! A robot is to remain obedient and loyal to her brother, despite any feelings she has!"
      "But I didn't mean to..." Anywhere but here!
      "Three! A robot is to keep her brother in the back of her heart as the only true love she has, returning to his fraternal embrace should her feelings be hurt!"
      "But that's why I'm here!" Marie announced desperately. She tried to move her legs, but they refused her commands.
      "I know." The room blinked, and returned to its stark whiteness. "Your feelings were hurt deeply by a lustful boy. I'm glad you've seen fit to return to the fold." Hiroshi's voice gushed with pious compassion.
      "Yes, Marie?"
      "I... I lo--" She mouthed the word, but her voice was silenced, as if she was trying speak in a vacuum.
      "A simple yes or no will do."
      "YES OR NO, Marie! Answer quickly!"
      "Yes!" Marie's tears again welled up. "Yes!"
      "I knew as much. Next!"

      So it's over, Marie felt an emptiness unknown to her before. She also felt a level of certainty in her life that was on the whole not unpleasant. At least Hiroshi had made a decision. She chose to block from her mind the result of the decision, or the fact that she was now without a master, and would live out the rest of her days as a mercenary, providing her services for money or other considerations.
      Marie blocked all this out, yet was keenly aware of the blocking. It was a feeling she knew could only make sense in a dream state. With a disquieted sense of relief, she stood obediently and turned around.

*       *       *

Saturday, 11:42 PM.

      Hiroshi reluctantly stepped to the top of the stairs and entered his living room. The silence pressed down on him, forcing him to breath through his mouth for a moment before he gathered himself. He saw Tanaka and Mari sitting where he and Mari had sat earlier that afternoon. So much had happened since that ill-fated conversation, where he sat in his chair, smug in his false confidence, hoping to God he would quit messing up. But, it seemed, God wasn't with him, neither at this moment, nor that earlier one.
      "Have a seat." Mari's voice seemed pleasant enough, even a little quiet or concerned; he couldn't be sure which. She was motioning to the couch she was resting on. He stepped mechanically to the other end of the couch and sat gingerly, as if to keep the cushions from moving at all.
      "Is she going to be okay?" Mari definitely sounded concerned. Hiroshi dared not look at her directly.
      "I'm not sure if there's much I can do right now," he sighed. "No matter what I do, I can't change any of her routines." Hiroshi realized who his audience was and paused. "Should I go on?" He looked at Mari and then to Tanaka, who had fallen asleep in the recliner.
      "Please do." Mari nodded. "I'm not sure I'll catch all of it, but I'd like to know."
      "Well, apparently, the Hitomi routines have protected themselves and aren't allowing me any access to the drive. Aside from a full reset and reformat of all systems, there's nothing we can do but wait for Marie to fix herself."
      "Can she do that?" Mari's concern pulled at Hiroshi, and he had to clear his throat or face the prospect of breaking down right there.
      "She has the ability to reprogram herself. In theory, if she can isolate the proper routines, and recode them, she can fix herself."
      "Why can't you recode her routines?"
      "I only wrote her initial routines -- the kernel routines that controlled basic behavior models and the basic libraries of language and body control..." Hiroshi looked at Mari, who looked back at him with a glance that made a little bell in the back of his head chime.
      "Do you want me to start over?"
      Mari nodded pleasantly.
      "Do you want me to speak like other humans?"
      Mari nodded again, and again did so pleasantly.
      "Okay. Basically, I created her mental skeleton. She's been adding the muscles and nerves and tendons, and probably a little fat to those routines through her actions and deductions. And her memories. But she also has the power to be her own surgeon. As long as the skeleton isn't disturbed, she muscles and tendons and fat can be cut or changed, or toned up though I'm not sure if that's a such a great metaphor because it is all mental and she technically wouldn't be able to expand more than her maximum parameters and I'm getting off on a tangent again aren't I?"
      "Okay. The short of it? I'm pretty sure she can fix herself. She's quite a persistent person..." An unspoken "but" hung in the air between them, unwanted by both.
      "...But she's not really a person. She's a robot." Mari knew she had to say it sooner or later. Hiroshi also knew, but had been hoping for later.
      "She's an android. A robot is really just a computer with the ability to move in the real world. Marie is obviously much more than that." Hiroshi's voice remained low, almost solemn. "In fact..." He looked Mari in the eye, and saw tears welling. Her expression was unreadable. Hiroshi cleared his throat again. "In fact, she may be more than just an android."
      "She's not human..."
      "...That's relative."
      "Relative to what? She's a doll!" Mari whipped her head away from Hiroshi's gaze, and cupped it in her hands. "You made her. You built her..." She finally lost her voice to the tears that trickled between her fingers.
      Hiroshi aborted a reach for her. "I never intended for Marie to be..."
      "What? Be what? Alive? Sentient? Tell me Hiroshi!" Mari turned to him again. Her hands still covered most of her face, but her eyes pierced him, and he was taken aback. Hiroshi desperately wanted to speak, but the pressure in the room kept him from speaking. He sighed as he breathed through his mouth. He finally averted his gaze and moved forward to the edge of the couch.
      "I want to see her room." Mari seemed devoid of emotion. Hiroshi blinked at the change of subject.
      "Did you hear me, Karigari? I said, 'I want to see her room.' Are you going to take me there, or am I going to have to go there by myself?"
      "Why? Yes! I mean, yes, but why?"
      "I want to see some things."
      Hiroshi stood and lead her to Marie's room. She stepped in immediately and went through, inspecting Marie's possessions carefully and objectively.
      "Kind of bare," she noted aloud. "Did she pick those clothes out herself?"
      "Most of them, yes."
      "I thought so. I'd never wear anything like that." Because I could never pull it off. She moved officiously to Marie's desk. A number of books sat, neatly stacked, next to a number of CD's.
      "Interesting selections." She pointed to the books. "Did you give them to her?"
      "No." He stepped to the desk and took a look at the titles. "Oh my." A copy each of 'Frankenstein,' 'The Key,' 'I, Robot' and 'Catch-22,' each worn from repeated reading, lay stacked off to one side, away from direct notice. Mari had already moved to the girl's diary when Hiroshi finally noticed.
      "No!" He nabbed the diary from her. "Not this."
      "Why? What's she got in there?" Mari's voice could have killed Hiroshi in any other situation, but he stood firm.
      "I don't know." Hiroshi's tone darkened. "But it's her diary, and you shouldn't be in it. How would you like it if Marie read your diary?"
      Mari blushed and looked at her feet.
      Hiroshi nodded for emphasis, and squeezed the diary in his arms.
      Mari turned away, and stepped slowly to the door. Hiroshi took the opportunity to slip the diary carefully into a drawer. The air thickened again as he waited for Mari to fully exit the room.
      "She's nothing like me, you know." Mari turned at the doorway. Her voice lilted across the room. She sounds almost... relieved? Hiroshi pondered.
      "What?" he finally asked.
      "You didn't know anything about me when you made her, did you?"
      "You even messed up physically. Now that I think about it, that's a little insulting. I mean, you didn't even have the decency to make her the same size as me!"
      "That wasn't my fault! Do you know how much guesswork was involved? I think I did pretty good considering the conditions under which I had to work. I mean, I never saw you without your..." Hiroshi blushed. "...You know."
      "I know. And you're not the type who would look in my diary, so I shouldn't blame you for being wrong about everything." Mari almost smiled, but turned away, and walked slowly and silently downstairs to the living room. Hiroshi followed a good three paces behind.

*       *       *

      Marie was in a kitchen -- not her own, but one with a sheen of slightly noticeable technology. Technology that wasn't presently available. She noted that it could have been her own, but that Hiroshi wouldn't be so utilitarian with his work.
      She chopped the broccoli methodically, removing the bushy tops from the stalks and placing them neatly on a platter. A creamy dip of some sort sat comfortably in a crystal bowl in the center of the platter. Marie looked for a moment, and realized she desperately wanted to become that dip, but that she couldn't.
      "After all," she mused. "I probably have more in common with the broccoli than the dip."
      "Marie! Is the dip ready?" Mari's voice, deepened with age and smoothed with success, floated into the kitchen. Her commanding tone, however, was not lost by the distance between the kitchen and the living room.
      "Coming, ma'am!" Marie hoped she had yelled loud enough, but not so loud as to be considered assertive or intrusive. She looked again at the dip, her idol, and proceeded to the hallway that ran between the kitchen and the living room.
      The hallway was endless, but Marie knew that she couldn't stop walking, or the broccoli and dip would never make it to Mari on time. Lining the wall were still frames -- photos of events Marie had never seen. Each seemed to be taken the merest of moments after the previous one. They were in black and white, and while they weren't always in focus, the gist of the situation became apparent. It was a wedding, and she was helping with the reception.
      "I've got to get this to the living room before everybody's gone!" Marie took a skip, and took off running as she landed. The hallway blew by, and the pictures blurred in the rim of her vision.
      "There's got to be a faster way!" And then she remembered the broccoli's powers. She tossed a piece in her mouth and chewed. Soon, she was running at the speed of light, and the hallway melted away.
      She stopped at the edge of the living room, caught her breath quickly and stepped in, ready to serve the guests.
      "Marie!" Hiroshi was the first to greet her. He was just removing his shoes at the doorway. His hair was graying at the temples, and Marie noticed a tiny bald spot in the back when her bent over to put his shoes away. Behind him one step was Hitomi, also removing her shoes.
      "It's been quite a long time," Hitomi smiled, and dimples appeared in her ever-so-slightly chubby cheeks. Her hair was curled and cropped neatly about her head, which made her look older than she was.
      Marie tried not to drop her platter in shock. "It's wonderful so see you again," she managed.
      Mari and Tanaka stood from their couch and smiled. "Come in, sit down. Marie's been preparing a wonderful dinner for us. When will it be ready?" Mari turned, still smiling, to Marie, who gulped.
      "In about thirty minutes, ma'am." She weakly smiled.
      "Wonderful! That'll give us just enough time to catch up a little. I mean, it has been nearly 10 years!" She turned again to her guests. "And how's little Junichiro?"
      Marie dropped her platter. Mari turned first, then Tanaka. But it was Tanaka who flew into the rage.
      "If you think you can waltz in here after what you tried to pull last time, and then have the gall to steal a kiss, you've got another thing coming! Why don't you go try to hit on Mari? Why? Because you're a complete loser, that's why! I want you out! Out!" He reached for the coffee table and picked up a mug. "OUT!" He threw the mug at the retreating Marie. It hit her on the head. Hard.
      "What the hell are you getting so worked up over, you little tramp! Don't tell me you were saving yourself, cause it won't get any better than me, babe!" Marie snickered and turned from the living room entrance and stepped right up to Tanaka. He had at least a three-inch size advantage, but Marie knew better -- she knew the power she had.
      "Listen up, you moron!" Tanaka was shaking, his face red. "I gave you a goddamn order and I want you to follow it, got it? Get the hell out before I kick your ass!"
      Tanaka pulled back to slap Marie, but the android ducked out of the way, rolling to the floor, trying to cover herself in the dip. Tanaka leapt after her, and the pair rolled around the floor, grappling for control.
      "Ha! I've got control now!" Marie managed to clasp her fingers around a piece of broccoli. She tossed it in her mouth and chewed triumphantly as Tanaka shrank back in horror.
      "Not that! Anything but that!" He ran and hid behind Mari as Marie laughed maniacally.

*       *       *

Sunday, 12:25 AM.

      "Excuse me, Mari," Hiroshi felt he had to break the silence. The two had been sitting exactly as they were on the couch, listening to Tanaka snore. "If it's not too personal, may I ask what you're thinking?" Hiroshi didn't like the notion of Mari thinking too long without him being able to defend himself.
      "I don't know. This is all... it's too weird to even think about." She looked at him. Her eyes were still strange, but somehow softer now. "Why did you make her?"
      "Well, I..."
      Mari interrupted. "I guess I should ask, why did you make her like me?"
      "Because..." A confession? Now? I can't... Hiroshi's mind raced for alternate reasons, but they all seemed a little lame.
      "Because why? Don't tell me you picked me 'just because.' Let me guess." Mari's voice became wistful, "You picked me because I am your ideal girl?" Hiroshi gasped; Mari continued. "But you never had the courage to ask me out directly, so you made Marie to be your companion." She smiled and looked at Hiroshi. "How was that?" Her voice seemed a little out of place given their previous conversation.
      Hiroshi hung his head and sighed. "Sounds good to me."
      "Yeah?" Hiroshi hoped she would change the subject.
      "What is a 'Hitomi' routine?"
      "Huh? Oh, that. It's a long story."
      "I've got time." Mari turned her body around so she faced Hiroshi; she sat cross-legged with her elbows on her knees and her chin cupped in her petite hands. "So, you might as well get started, because the conversation's going nowhere until you tell me."
      "Okay..." Hiroshi took a deep breath.

*       *       *

      The world blinked, and Marie was sitting on the familiar bench at the edge of the school playground. The concrete and asphalt reflected the heat from the summer sun's rays in her direction, and she reflexively wiped the gathering sweat from her brow. In the middle distance, just beyond the swings but closer than the slide, two children played. Marie heard them laughing as they chased and caught and chased again.
      "Hiroshi..." She wanted so badly to call out to him, but he seemed so happy.
      "You want to be there, don't you?" Marie looked up to see Mari standing behind her, also gazing into the distance. She put her hand on Marie's shoulder. "For once, we're both in the same boat. I only wish it wasn't the sinking one." Mari barely smiled.
      "Do you know Hitomi?" Marie asked her model as she took a seat on the bench. The heat was oppressive, but it didn't seem to daunt the children. Their play increased in fervor -- their chases became longer, their runs faster. When one caught the other, the grappling was more furious and care-free, as if they were rolling in the softest grass instead of cracked concrete. They seemed to be without a single worry. Marie wondered why she felt such the opposite; she wondered if what she was watching could come from the same mind as her own thoughts.
      "Hitomi Yamada, born August 22, 1977 to Keiko and Ichiro Yamada. Raised by both parents, had a relatively comfortable childhood in a wealthy home among the arts, where she learned to paint and write music. However, she was infamous for her anti- social behavior, and received counseling every Sunday at 10:00 AM. Hiroshi came to play every Saturday at ten and every Sunday at noon. Their sessions usually lasted until an hour after sundown. Subsequently, they would return to their respective homes. Hiroshi would then work on his various projects, and Hitomi would..." Mari paused. "Engage in tasks unknown."
      "What about the kiss?"
      "Unknown." Mari stared intently on the two children, who had stopped chasing, and were now lying on their backs. Marie looked up, and saw innumerable stars nonexistent a moment before. The sky seemed no less dark, but the stars still shone as if it were night.
      "Why is she with me?" Marie finally asked her model.
      "The routines that make up the Hitomi entity reside in libraries and routines embedded in your systems. If that's what you meant to ask." Mari smiled nervously and turned to Marie. "I hope I'm not startling you."
      Marie was concentrating on the two kids, who had maneuvered closer to each other. They seemed to be holding hands. "Uh, no. I'm fine." Her voice had that tired and airy quality of mental distance.
      "How do I fix all the problems she's causing?"
      Mari didn't answer, and Marie was ready to stand and leave the scene when she finally spoke. "Why don't you ask her that?"
      "But how? She seems a little preoccupied in her own dream world." Marie pointed an arm to the pair of giggling children. "I'm not in control of these dreams."
      "Don't be so sure." Mari smiled and walked away. Moments later, she disappeared from view at a distance Marie knew was too close to lose sight of a person at, but still too far to see beyond.

*       *       *

Sunday, 1:49 AM.

      "And when I wrote her a letter to tell her how the move went, she never wrote back." Hiroshi finished his tale finally.
      "After all of that, she never wrote back?" Mari was leaning forward, intently absorbing the story. This was not her first question, though; a number of questions (many "Why?" or How?") crept into Hiroshi's narrative, between words. These basic, sometimes childlike inquiries tripped Hiroshi up, so much so that he would have to start over at the beginning of a thought after answering her question.
      "Not once." Hiroshi's voice trailed off. He wasn't looking at her, but Mari could see his eyes shimmer a little in the light dimly pouring from the single lamp behind her.
      "And you never found out why, right?"
      "Nope." He turned to her and smiled a little. "See, I told you it was a long story."
      Mari checked her watch and chuckled. "And you were right. Though I have heard longer." She smiled and gently put a graceful hand on Hiroshi's shoulder. She could feel his muscles tense up, and heard a sharp intake of air. She saw his eyes clinch shut, and she momentarily considered removing her hand, but she remained firm. Don't be afraid. Her determination paid off; soon, his muscles relaxed, and he exhaled.
      "Marie will be okay, right? I mean, she can regain control, right?"
      "I think so. Like I kind of said before, she has the access rights to erase Hitomi's routines, and if she can, she should be fine..."
      Again, a silent "but" hung between them. Mari finally finished the thought.
      "But what if she can't? What if Hitomi won't let her? What kind of 'access rights' does Hitomi have?" Hiroshi's shoulders tensed again.
      "Given the situation, I'd have to say she has the same rights as Marie." He quickly added, "But she might not know she has them."
      Mari was quick to agree. "You're right. Marie has the upper hand. Really, it's just a matter of time before she fixes herself..."
      "...Right?" she added in a whisper to herself. Or maybe it was to the deity or angel or whatever that guarded over good little androids in their sleep. Or maybe it was to anyone who'd hear her.
      "I'm going to go downstairs and check on her." Hiroshi stood, and in a moment of boldness quietly announced, "There's a guest bedroom down the hall to the left. You can stay there tonight if you'd like. Or I can call you a cab."
      "We'll see. Right now, I think we should check on Marie." Mari stood and led the way downstairs. Hiroshi followed, only a step behind.

*       *       *

      Marie recognized the surroundings instantly. She was at the Cafe Pierrot. The cafe was empty, save for one man, whom she saw peeking through the kitchen door, and one waitress, who placed a large platter of yakisoba noodles in front of the android.
      "Enjoy your meal!" The waitress smiled and walked to the kitchen. Marie looked across the table, and saw Hitomi sitting across from her, smiling.
      "Are you gonna eat all those yourself?" She clicked a pair of chopsticks deviously in her hand. Marie leaned over her plate protectively.
      "Yes, of course I am! They're a gift from the man back there." She pointed to the pair of eyes behind the door. "The cook, I think." She grabbed her chopsticks and prepared a bite. "You'll have to get your own."
      "Fine! I will!" And the waitress brought Hitomi a plate of noodles. "I bet I can eat more noodles than you!"
      Marie bristled at the challenge. "What are the stakes?"
      "The winner gets to date the cook back there."
      "And the loser?"
      "And the loser will have to eat herself."
      "That's weird." Marie cringed. "Where'd you come up with that?"
      "Ready, get set, go!"
      Marie didn't wait for any sort of logical reply -- the contest was on! As both contestants ate with appetites voracious enough to scare even the heartiest of eaters, the cook prepared dishes -- elaborate arrangements, simple platters, and ornate meals. All sorts of cuisine was gobbled down by the fierce competitors. Soon, it became apparent who the winner was going to be.
      "Don't give up now, Marie! I was just getting warmed up!" Hitomi mocked as Marie attempted one more bite, but couldn't muster the will to chew. Hitomi laughed wildly and continued to eat. When her plate was finished, Hitomi reached for Marie's plate, and finished that. Then, she ate her chopsticks, munching them like so many sticks of Pocky.
      "I've never been so hungry in all my life," she noted as she licked her fingers. Marie was looking at her hands, contemplating what it would be like to eat her own body when a series of crunches brought her back to the situation across the table from her.
      Hitomi had eaten her own hand, and was working on the arm. There was no blood, no gore. Rather, she seemed to be turning into a noodle. One long noodle, strung elaborately to form her body. She slurped it happily, and she spoke between bites and gulps.
      "I guess you won, in the end." Munch, chew. Her left arm was gone. "Could you tell Hiroshi to check up on me now and again, in the real world?" Sluuuurp, gulp. Her leg on the same side was now also gone. "That is, if there is a me in the real world." Bite bite bite. Her right arm disappeared. "I mean, there's a you in the real world." Chomp grind grind. Her other leg. "And I don't mean you, I mean Mari. So there's a Hitomi out there for me to be like, right?" The words trailed off as her head, floating in mid-air, disintegrated into a self-ingesting noodle.
      The cook smiled from behind the door. Marie stood, fatter than normal, a little too full to properly walk, and waddled from the cafe. As the door opened for her, she closed her eyes.

*       *       *

      "Good morning, Marie." Mari was smiling, sideways in Marie's view. Marie realized she was lying down. She sat up, and saw her room. "Is it you, Marie?"
      "Yeah, it's me. I had the weirdest dream. Well, actually it was more than one, but they were all so weird."
      "I bet." Mari flopped down at the desk chair beside Marie's bed.
      "Where's Hiroshi?"
      "He's sleeping," Mari yawned in reply.
      "What time is it?"
      "About four in the morning."
      "I have to see him!"
      "Could you let him sleep a little longer? He's been working awfully hard..." Mari looked behind her, out the door of the bedroom. She half-expected to see Hiroshi leaning against the door frame, smiling like some young Musketeer. He'd say, 'It was nothing,' and laugh warmly...

      "Mari? Are you okay?" Marie's words snapped the girl back into reality.
      "Huh? Wha...? Yeah, I'm fine." She looked back at Marie and smiled. "I guess I'm just a little too tired myself."
      "I'm sorry I caused so much trouble..." Marie began to apologize, but Mari pressed her finger to Marie's lips.
      "Don't say it. You weren't any trouble at all. It wasn't your fault this all happened." Again, Marie looked back, and again half-expected to see Hiroshi leaning against the door-frame. She'd see him and say, "It was all your fault for programming her with those long lost memories in the first place!"
      "I think you'd better get home and get some sleep, Mari." Again, Marie's voice dragged Mari back from the edge of dreams.
      "You're probably right. Can you get up? I need to wake Tanaka up and get home. And I need you there to keep him from knowing too much."
      "What are you planning?"
      "Just a little show and tell. Don't worry -- your secret's safe with me. But when I'm actually awake, we'll need to talk. I mean really talk." Mari stood weakly and gathered her strength as Marie dressed behind her.
      "Shall we?" Mari smiled after a long minute.
      "Let's." Marie nodded purposefully.

      Tanaka was still sleeping in Hiroshi's armchair. Mari wondered how he could have slept through her arguments and conversations and confessions. Then she smiled when she realized he'd never have to know about them.
      "Tanaka! Wake up! It's time to go home!"
      "What? Where? Marie?"
      "She's right here. You passed out. It must have been all those drinks you had. Marie and I decided to let you sleep it off, but it's time to get going, so we gotta go. So get up!"
      "But I saw Marie... robot?" Tanaka managed to slur the words out through hours of sleep and a slight hangover.
      "What? You must have been hallucinating. See, she's right here." Marie waved timidly. "So, let's go, loverboy, before you fall asleep again!" And they were out the door in moments. Mari winked at the android before she closed the front door. Marie managed another weak wave good-bye.

Okay, time for references and such.

Hibiki Kennou: For those of you who haven't yet seen the anime, Hibiki Kennou is a character featured in episode 2. She and Marie had a knock-down, drag-out fight in the most traditional sense. She is still alive and wandering about in the universe (much like another Hibiki of greater fame)...

Ages: I'm working under the assumption that 1996 (the copyright date of episode 1 of the anime) is Hiroshi's sophomore year in college; Marie is supposed to be both 18 and a younger sister, thus making Hiroshi at least 19. Given that Hiroshi and Hitomi are the same age, Hiroshi was also born sometime in 1977 (Hitomi's birth year).

Dreams: The recycled footage in the second dream is very intentional; I've had dreams where similar things have happened. Don't ask me why, but... ^_^ The other dreams seem to be rather common thematically, but I didn't look up exactly what they were supposed to mean.

Names: Junichiro is a reference to the author of 'The Key,' Junichiro Tanizaki.

I'd like to thank the Jim Nutley Trio (Jim Nutley, Eimii, and T.H. Tiger) for pre-reading and giving me good reason to properly edit my work. ^_^

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